Practical Magic and High Magic

There’s some talk bubbling around the edges of some of the communities I observe about the difference between high magic (i.e., theurgy, magic designed to bring us closer to the divine, whatever that is) and low or practical magic (i.e., thaumaturgy, the magic of getting stuff).

Hinduism dealt with this distinction a few years ago (like, a few thousand) and came up with a nice summary of doctrine: “You can have what you want.”  You can use Hinduism to get what you want with mantras and spells, or you can use it to get what you want with the advanced techniques of yoga.  Hindu sages recognized that people who don’t have basic living necessities aren’t likely to want to seek god.  Of course, ascetics and so forth are an exception, but even they surrender luxuries they already had.  The point is, practical magic serves the purpose of yoinking us up Maslow‘s pyramid of needs.

Another purpose of practical magic is as a litmus test.  It’s pretty obvious when practical magic works.  I need a job, I do a spell, I get a job in a surprising or unexpected way.  But sometimes, it’s harder to tell if Theurgy works.  That new ritual I learned last night while rising on the plains — did I really learn it from an outside source or did I make it up?  How will I know for sure?  There are ways to test, but they’re always fraught with the uncertainty that — say — a handful of cash is not.

So obviously I come down on the side of getting what you want, at least while you still want it.  I also recognize that’s sort of a trap.  Many a person enters magic for power and so forth and ends up finding that all the stuff he or she wanted wasn’t what he or she really wanted after all.


2 Responses to “Practical Magic and High Magic”

  1. Adrigen Says:

    You make reference to “rising on the plains”, I can’t find any info about this on the net (except the mention in your site). Can you suggest any guide I might find. Online preferably?

  2. Patrick Says:

    Oh, easy. It’s because I misspelled it: It’s “planes.” Obviously, I’ve been living in Illinois too long.

    Try searching for “rising on the planes.” You’ll find more stuff, I imagine.

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